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The idea for this article came about when I was on a personal hunt for the perfect convertible backpack. I needed a bag that would ease the stress on my back and shoulders when I had to carry home a heavy laptop, but could also transition to a purse I’d want to carry on any other day when I wasn’t lugging a ton of stuff home (my holy grail is the one you see above).
My obsession with finding a stylish yet practical convertible backpack evolved into a three-month-long research project that included searching for a variety of styles, testing out bags in my everyday life, reading hundreds of reviews, and stalking brand Instagram accounts for style inspiration.
In the end, this is the list I came up with — and it’s one that spans pretty much every need. From sporty travel totes to convertible duffels, luxury purses to unisex gym bags — there’s at least one option below that’s sure to work for your lifestyle.
Mark & Graham Commuter 3-in-1 Briefcase-Backpack
The ultimate pick for men (or anyone who’s into this sleek, minimalist aesthetic) is Mark & Graham’s three-in-one briefcase, backpack, and messenger bag hybrid.
Cleverly placed clips allow you to adjust the orientation of the straps so you can carry the bag over your shoulder, as a backpack, or from the briefcase strap. It’s large enough to serve as a daily work bag, gym bag, or even overnight bag if you’re a light packer.
The bag unzips all the way around like a suitcase, so you get two separate compartments with plenty of thoughtfully designed storage. On one side, there’s a padded laptop compartment with additional pockets, and on the other size there’s a zippered mesh layer (like the kind you find in suitcases) to keep the two sides properly packed and separated. The bag even features a grommet hole for your headphones so you can still listen to music while keeping your phone secure. An outer zip pocket allows quick access to things you might need more regularly.
The ANDI Bag
The ANDI Bag is essentially the most versatile unisex gym bag out there. After going through over 60 prototypes to get the design just right, the final version (which comes in a variety of colors and patterns) can be carried in three different ways: as a backpack, a tote bag, or with a large adjustable strap that can be slung over the shoulder or worn across the body.
Its durable nylon construction ensures that it can stand up to sweaty clothes, leaky water bottles, and minor snags. When you’re not using it as a bag, it folds up into the size of a wristlet for packing away in your closet or during your travels.
It’s also worth noting that the strap on the back of the bag where you thread the backpack straps through can also fit over the handle of a suitcase, securing it to your luggage as it rolls along.
Senreve Maestra Bag
These luxury bags have been all over Instagram lately , and with good reason. Senreve’s Maestra bags, which come in three sizes, are extremely versatile without sacrificing an ounce of style.
They’re are all made in Italy from top-grain, scratch-resistant leather in either a pebbled or saffiano (what the company calls “Mimosa”) finish. And though they’re definitely on the pricier side, their quality and style is pretty much unmatched as far as convertible backpacks go.
The way this bag transitions is extremely simple, and there’s no need to snap, clip, undo, or buckle anything. Just pull the strap up to use it as a purse, or pull the straps down and put your arms through them to carry it as a backpack. I use my full-sized Maestra pretty much every day, and the ease of its functionality is what I feel makes it so worth while (especially for commuters).
As far as capacity goes, inside you’ll find a spacious compartment lined with microsuede, and a large sleeve lining the backside of the bag that’s meant to hold laptops, tablets, and notebooks. The largest Maestra bag can hold a full-sized 13-inch laptop, but be aware that the midi version is only big enough for a tablet. The mini version is a perfect size for daytime adventures and travels.
Knomo Harewood Laptop Tote Backpack
This bag is ideal for travelers, students, or commuters who need to carry a laptop but don’t want to tote around a ton of extra bulk. The Harewood style is particularly slim, and can fit up to a 15-inch laptop in the main compartment’s designated and padded sleeve. Along with a laptop, you’ll also have room for some bulkier items like an umbrella, lunch container, planner, and book.
The front pocket has multiple small compartments that are perfect for accessing the basics like your keys, wallet, and lip balm — but most importantly, there’s a special pocket with a built-in RFID lining so you can keep your credit cards and sensitive documents safe when traveling or commuting.
The backpack straps are completely removable, but cannot be reconfigured for a cross-body functionality, which means you’re limited to just tote and backpack wearability. The tote comes in additional colors including black and cherry red.
Patagonia Lightweight Travel Tote Backpack
If you’re looking for a lightweight, sporty backpack that’s both affordable and easy to travel with, this style from Patagonia is your best bet. Made from 70-denier nylon ripstop, it’s incredibly durable and won’t have any trouble holding up to more intense weather or travel conditions.
Though you can theoretically fit a laptop inside the main compartment, there’s no designated sleeve. Instead, the bag features a large, open interior with one long zippered pouch inside and two elasticized pockets for water bottles or grab-ables on the exterior sides. The front also has an additional zippered pocket that can be accessed from either direction.
To keep it compact, you’ll also find adjustable straps on the upper sides that allow you to compress the contents of the backpack. When you want to carry it as a tote, you can simply tuck the backpack straps into the back sheath (the straps are not fully removable), and if you want to pack the entire bag away, the whole thing folds up into a medium-sized pouch that can be packed in a suitcase or stored in your closet.
Cuyana Leather backpack
Their convertible backpack is a perfect example of how flawlessly the company combines form and function. Easily swapped from a backpack to a shoulder bag with a short strap that clips over the top, this style is as versatile and modern as it is classic. It’s available in blush (pictured), black, and cognac pebbled leather for $375, but there’s also a patent croc-embossed version in black for $495.
Though it’s not the one I’d recommend if you plan to carry around a large laptop or other heavy items on a daily basis, it’s still perfectly suited for the city commuter who’s carrying around her a book or Kindle, lunch, a sweater, sunglasses, and other everyday essentials. There’s no laptop pocket inside (just a big open interior), but there are two large exterior pockets with magnetic closures that perfectly house items like chapstick, subway cards, earbuds, pens, etc.
If I’m not carrying my laptop home or back to work, this is usually the day bag I rely on most during the week. I like to keep it in backpack-mode, but it’s nice that when I go out for dinner after work I can swap the straps to carry it as a purse — a little upgrade that goes a long way.
Caraa Studio Bag
Caraa’s bags are, as their tagline denotes, “designed for fashion, crafted for sport.”
The brand makes multiple convertible backpacks, but we’ve found that their Studio Bag, which is available in three different sizes, offers a function that many others don’t. Its ability to transition from backpack to duffel, instead of just backpack to tote, makes it that much more versatile. It’s the kind of bag that can take you from work to a weekend trip to a workout class with nothing more than the clip of a strap.
While many opt for the original or medium size to use as a daily gym bag, I use my large Studio Bag as a weekender and overnight bag. Mine is just large enough to fit two days’ worth of clothing (this is coming from a notorious over-packer, so you may be able to fit even more), and I carry it as a backpack when I’m hopping through the city to get to my bus, train, or plane.
It comes with a shoulder strap so you can carry it as a crossbody or gym duffel, but also has build in top handles if you prefer to carry it that way. The interior has two separate compartments — one that zips down the middle and one that zips over the top — making it super easy to access your stuff. Inside each compartment are plenty of cleverly designed pouches and pockets, including removable bags for storing shoes, wet clothes, and other items that need to be kept separate.
Though the price is relatively high, the functionality is pretty unbeatable, and the quality is exceptional.
Carhartt Legacy Hybrid Convertible Backpack Tote
Though Carhartt is becoming increasingly trendy among Brooklyn hipsters, they’ve been around since 1889 making utilitarian clothing and bags for manual laborers who work under extremely rugged conditions.
Their convertible backpack tote is a perfect example of their pragmatic approach to design and construction. The zip-top bag is made from a heavy-duty polyester fabric with a Rain Defender water-repellant coating for all-weather use. The interior has a padded compartment for laptops, a medium-sized cavity, and two additional pockets for holding onto items like chargers, phones, or note pads.
The front of the bag has a small zippered compartment for keeping smaller essentials handy, and it has a snap-buttoned strap that folds the tote down for compression. The backpack straps aren’t fully removable, but they’re easily adjusted to lay tight against the back side of the bag. They can also be fully extended to act as a crossbody. It’s hard to see in this picture, but there are also two slash pockets (aka pockets with no zipper) on each side of the bag for things you might need to access quickly.
The only thing to note is that one of the color options available (called “Wine”) seems to be more of a purple-grey color that has disappointed some customers. I highly suggest checking the customer photos if you’re considering ordering that color.
Henri Bendel Jetsetter Convertible Backpack
Available in multiple sizes, this convertible bag from Henri Bendel can be carried as a backpack, handbag, or crossbody. The backpack straps can either be fully removed, or can connect to become a longer crossbody strap for maximum versatility.
The larger size of this bag is great for carrying to work, while the smaller size is ideal for traveling and adventuring. Both feature interior storage pockets, but keep in mind that they lack a designated spot for laptops and tablets.
Most of the designs are made from a water-resistant nylon with saffiano leather trim, but there are a few styles available with canvas, neoprene, or straw. There’s a ton of color variety, too, with nylon bags coming in quite a few neutrals as well as a bright blue, or even metallic silver. Henri Bendel also makes it easy to customize the bag to fit your personality with monogramming and plenty of cute charms to clip on.